The Peace of God it is no peace but strife close in the sod.
Yet let us pray for but one thing the marvelous peace of God.
It was several years ago when I moved into a small house in west Olympia Washington. The back yard was a long stretch of garden that was unkept. The apple trees needed pruning, the irises were so close together they couldn’t bloom, the roses were scraggily. At the far end of the yard, were these enormous mounds of brown vines the size of a small hut. They were so big that they looked like little dwelling places. Seriously so big that if they were open inside, I could have stood upright inside them. That big.
On closer examination, they turned out to be enormous bunches of thick brown vines. A master gardener friend identified them as grape vines. Grapes that had gone wild. The vines had grown in on themselves. They had not been cultivated. They were strangling themselves for being too close. The gardener’s advice? Cut them back to nothing.
Two summers later, they bore tiny little green grapes. I could hardly wait to try them. It is then that I understood the full import of Isaiah’s passage this morning: how sour these grapes were! My face puckered as I tried to swallow them down: they set my teeth on edge.
Speaking of teeth on edge—
The Gospel today sets me on edge! The last thing we need right now is more division Jesus. We live in a divided culture. We can’t even talk about simple things anymore like the weather for we may end up arguing over climate change. We can’t talk history of our country for we might not agree about what history we follow. We are like those mounds of grape vines in my backyard— unkept and choking out potential growth, growing in on themselves yielding wild sour grapes only when chopped back. What are we to do about this divisiveness this rancor and hostility we live with? That is the question we wrestle with in our larger culture as our narrative of our country is alarmingly divided. I have no answers for this beloved—I simply am aware that there is growing division. And I wonder: is division always bad?
So often unity can cost us authenticity.
A colleague of mine tells a story about leaving the Roman church to become Episcopal. She was so excited to find the Episcopal church which felt like a better fit for her. She was excited to share her news with her mother. Upon telling her mom her news of leaving the Roman church, Paula’s mother said, “You are no longer my daughter. It was quite devastating. My colleague friend lost her mother But did what was right for her soul. I think that’s what Jesus is talking about today—those times when we might lose ourselves for the sake of family unity or even friendship. Jesus is making a strong argument today that we are invited into being authentic to who we are truly are. REAL. TRUE. GENUINE.
When we are true to who we are, it can cost us relationships even family relationships.
But this is what it means to be a baptized person. To live into the fullest stature of Christ means we will suffer. There are moments when our choosing to live by the Covenant of our baptism is onerous. I wonder how many of us have had our baptism put on the line in our lives and made a choice that cost us something but our integrity who we are deep in our souls remained intact.
It is in those moments when our teeth are set on edge that we come to live this gospel we come to know the Peace of Christ that is no peace. The spouse that walks away from their abusive marriage, the young adult brave enough to come out to their family about being LGBTQ in spite of judgement or strongly held religious beliefs. The middle school kid brave enough to stand up to their clique of friends and dissent. The male coworker who won’t laugh and indulge in racist jokes from the boss. The peace of Christ that is no peace.
Doing the work of the Gospel means that we will draw emotional heat and it will divide us. People will not agree with what we are doing to be good news in the world. Desmond Tutu once wrote “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in
Choosing to do this action of going up river goes against everything our culture teaches us. But doing the work of the Gospel means that we will ask WHY things are the way they are! Asking why is a powerful question. Ask any parent of a toddler who incessantly asks WHY. As I once remarked to a 5 year old Bella who kept asking Why to everything: Are you Buddha? How am I supposed to know?
Today’s Gospel is sour grapes. It sets our teeth on edge. It leaves us with more questions than answers. Thanks be to God we are a church that loves the questions. Jesus seems to love the questions as well.
Kevin Rye, a fellow Christ follower recently wrote,
In the Gospels, Jesus is asked 187 questions. He answers (maybe) 8 of them.
He himself asks 307.
Maybe faith isn’t about certainty, but learning to ask and sit in the complexity of good questions.
Today’s gospel is intense theology that raises more questions than it answers. I want to invite you beloved to sit in the complexity of division—division that sows discord, division that allows for our own integrity to flourish, division that separates us from perhaps unhealthy family relationships but restores our well being. Not all division is harmful. Not all unity is good. We sit in the complexity of our human existence which sometimes doesn’t feel very peaceful or tranquil.
The peace of Christ that is no peace will set our teeth on edge at times
But it may just restore our soul.
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